Reflection for Dec. 2, 2018 (Advent 1)
Jeremiah 33:14-16/ Luke 21:25-36
Be the Signs of Hope
I remember hearing about the American dream when I was growing up in Korea. A lot of Koreans dreamed of moving to the United States. Even when I was in my thirties and studying at the theological school in New Jersey, a lot of Korean pastors were studying there with me because they wanted to stay in the United States. Honestly, as someone who has lived both in the United States and in Canada, I know that Canada is a better country; but they make those plans in the hope that life would be better there. I came to Canada because I know that life is better for me personally here. The American dream continues even now with a lot of people trying to escape extreme poverty or for safety. They consider life in the United States as their best hope for survival. So, when the US government fires tear gas at them at the border, even at little children, it’s an act of destroying the hope of desperate people.
Even for us ordinary people living a relatively safe and comfortable life, sometimes we need help and hope. When we are down, we hear advice to focus on the positive to help us through hard times. “Be grateful for what you have, instead of complaining or lamenting about what you don’t have.” “Count your blessings.” We all go through challenges and difficulties in life sometimes, so we all need hope to hang onto, not only the desperate people such as asylum seekers. In the Bible, we can see the people of Israel when they were desperate and desperately looking for hope. Prophets of the Old Testament brought messages of hope to their people. God would send them a chosen one to restore the nation of Israel and restore its people to their past glory, which was the reign of David. Therefore, it makes sense that they hoped for God’s chosen one to come from David’s lineage. The messiah that Israel started waiting for is, one, a king to restore the nation, and two, from King David’s line. Their idea of salvation was different from our Christian one. That is why a lot of Jesus’ disciples were disappointed when he didn’t turn out to be a political rebel, Judas, being the most significant one. And they all looked for signs of hope. A special star guiding mysterious foreigners must have been quite an attractive and believable story to the ancient people.
But signs do not only come in supernatural forms. Even rational and scientific creatures like us can see signs, just not supernatural ones. When Jesus mentions that they can know summer is coming by observing the fig tree, that is something we can relate to. As I remember from my childhood, rainfall was imminent when grandmas and grandpas had worse joint pain than usual. We know that it’s because of the humidity level in the air; nothing supernatural or superstitious. But Jesus also says that we should be vigilant and watch out for signs. We are not exactly waiting for the end of the world too much, but we can learn from different signs from nature that we are destroying the environment. Some people think the end of the world will come as an environmental disaster, which is believable. So, we listen to scientists and environmental activists and think, “We should start protecting the earth now, or else there might be no future for our descendants.” For those who care about the environment, the movements to reduce waste, recycle, and writing letters and protesting for an environmentally conscious policies are the hope. I’m sure, for those with low and fixed incomes struggling to make their ends met, receiving help from the food bank is hope. For people of colour, seeing role models of colour is hope. These are some of the many faces of hope. Different people need different types of hope; hope comes in different forms. The author of Psalm 25 that we read today put his hope in God; his trust in God’s goodness.
As people of God preparing for Christmas, the birth of the special child who gave hope to millions and billions throughout history, reminds us that we should become hope for others as our teacher Jesus was for many. We constantly look for signs of hope when we need help. There are many people in the world who are more desperate than us. When countries such as Germany and Canada welcome refugees, that is the sign of hope for a lot of desperate people. When someone can’t pay all the bills and put food on the table, help from food bank is hope. When a person of colour or a gay person suffer bigotry and discrimination, white people or heterosexual people standing up for them is a sign of hope. When good men march alongside women in the women’s day march, supporting gender equality, it is a sign of hope for women.
Jesus came to earth to proclaim God’s liberating reign of love and justice, for which he lived and died. His followers are called to, well, “follow” in his footstep and work to bring God’s reign on earth. We start the first week of Advent with the theme of hope. We are all looking for signs of hope. If Jesus was the sign of hope for so many who followed him, as his followers, we should be the signs of hope for others. Treating others with compassion, providing help and support for those who need them, standing up for justice even if we belong to the privileged groups, this is how we follow Jesus and be the signs of hope for others. Thomas a Kempis wrote a classical book called Imitating Christ; as followers of Jesus, let us imitate the human Jesus and the values for which he stood. During this Advent and Christmas season, let us remember our call to imitate Jesus and follow his footsteps of life of humility and service. With the spirit of humility and service, let us become the signs of hope to our neighbors as we wait for Christmas.
Rev. Sunny Kim